Every dynasty across history is characterised and distinguished by certain attributes, and the ‘1952 family’ is no exception. One of the most important characteristics of any dynasty is the power-transferral method, and we will notice in this regard that in most dynasties throughout history there are mechanisms for transferring power from an emperor, king, or sultan to his successor.
For example, in Saudi Arabia, the throne is successively inherited, eldest to youngest, by the children of King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, the founder of the ruling family. At the end of this generation the process is supposed to begin again, and continue on with the grandchildren. In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the throne is inherited by the King’s eldest son, then his eldest son, and so on. The presence of a power transfer system guarantees stability to a large extent and safeguards against disputes and conflict. These evils have littered Islamic history, as some researchers, including Dr Hala Mustafa, for example, have noted the lack of a clear mechanism for transfer of power throughout this history.
Indeed, there is no specified mechanism for transferring power in the ‘1952 family’, but if we look at how power has been transferred, we can at least try to answer the question: When was power transferred? Then, after touching on this, we can attempt to answer the question: How was power transferred?
Many analysts and historians say that the transfer of power from Mohamed Naguib to Gamal Abdel Nasser was not a transfer of power in the recognised definition of the phase. In reality, Abdel Nasser was the person actually in charge since 1952, and Naguib was no more than a façade the Free Officers and Nasser were forced to hide behind due to practical considerations pertaining to Naguib’s rank in the army.
The official history taught in schools confirms this, and does not even recognise that there was ever a President of Egypt named Mohamed Naguib. I do not believe that this theory, promoted by Nasser supporters to hide the dispute that overthrew Naguib, is correct, and we can see that the group that founded the ‘1952 family’ was very different in terms of the nature of the regime that was founded following the ouster of the ‘Mohamed Ali family.’ Nasser won the dispute between himself and democracy supporters through a ‘palace coup’, when Naguib and a group of cavalry offices tried to restore the path of democracy. From this angle, we can only say that Nasser founded the ‘1952 family’ through the ‘palace coup’ following a crisis with the ruling group.
Power moved from Nasser to Anwar Sadat following a crisis as well, but the crisis originated in the ‘ruling class’ and it was clear following 1967 that Nasser and the group through which he ruled arrived at an impasse twice: once when the five-year plan failed and development projects were stalled to an extent that precipitated the housing crisis and rice demonstrations, and a second time, which occurred on a much larger scale, when Egypt suffered its largest military defeat in modern history after the battle of the Navarino Navy in the Mohamed Ali Era.
Egypt was defeated in 1967 while the Egyptian media was talking about entering Tel Aviv, representing both a military defeat and a defeat for frustrated people whose hopes and dreams had been shattered. Demonstrations were held in Cairo, Alexandria, and Mansoura to prosecute the officers responsible, and Taimor Al-Malwany, a student leader, chanted in 1968: “Down with the donkey…down with Abdel Nasser.”
Nasser was medically downed in 1967, but the great strength that he succeeded in building through diverse methods and tools gave him the capacity to remain; in other words he was not ousted directly, and he paid by dying slowly. This worsened the crisis, and at that moment specifically, fate intervened and power was passed on to Sadat.
The picture of the power transfer from Sadat to Mubarak seems clearer, especially with the September 1981arrests, as Sadat’s regime also arrived at an impasse. The crisis reached its peak such that Nabawi Ismail, interior minister under Sadat at the time, recounted how he talked with the prime minister Fouad Mohy El-Din before Sadat’s departure by a few days regarding the future of the country if Islamist organisations were able to assassinate Sadat. The two concluded: “There’s no problem. The country would be fine if Sadat were assassinated.”
Indeed, there was a moment of crisis that was only solved through Sadat’s departure, Islambouli’s bullets played the same role a blood clot that struck Nasser when the crisis reached its peak.
The transfer of power from Mubarak to Morsi and then Al-Sisi took place for the same reason: the country had reached a large and comprehensive crisis that required various policies and orientations to be reconsidered. The peak during Mubarak’s rule took place in 2010 following the election results and Mubarak’s insistence on inheritance of rule on one hand and a clarification of the extent to which the regime became isolated and lacked any popularity and legitimacy on the other.
Regarding Morsi, to which everyone, including the army according to Al-Sisi’s assertions, expressed a serious and sincere desire to cooperate, the country reached the peak of crisis when the supplementary constitutional declaration was issued and revealed the exclusionary elements of the Muslim Brotherhood. This cleared the field for the revolutionary wave that hit on 30 June 2013, and which transferred power from Morsi to Al-Sisi.
The main characteristic of power transitions within the ‘1952 family’ is power is transferred when a crisis reaches its peak. The president steps down either during a ‘palace coup’ as when the ‘1952 family’ was established, or due to an act of God taking place at the appropriate moment, like the Nasser-Sadat transition, or due to the bullets of Lieutenant Khaled Islambouli. It may also occur during a large revolution that takes place during the crisis’ apex.
The ruling power feels the crisis escalating and prepares and offers a new president from outside the ‘box’ or ruling group. Before Nasser’s departure, the question asked in muffled voices among the ruling class was: What happens after the president is gone? Answers, interpretations, candidates, and alternative policies were suggested.
Each time, the opposition begins asking questions and succeeds in gaining the attention of some. But quickly afterwards, many questions arise within the ruling class itself, taking on a ripple effect. At this moment, it seems logical that sacrificing the president and his associates becomes an urgent and necessary matter, because the crisis was grown to a point that there is no way out except through the president stepping down. Is it like a sacrifice is made from the ruling class of the “1952 family” each time a power transition takes place in an attempt to restore the group’s power? Have power transitions from one president to another within the “1952 family” made any radical tangible changes in politics?
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party